Puerto Rico: Violence Continues as Students Engage in Civil Disobedience

This post is part of our special coverage Puerto Rico Student Protests 2010/11.

Mother supports her son. Photo by Jesús Vázquez, of Desde Adentro. Republished from Rojo Gallito/Desde Adentro under a CC License.*

On January 20th, students from the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) started staging almost daily acts of civil disobedience at the Río Piedras campus as part of their strike against the $800 dollar annual fee imposed by the administration. The Police has already arrested at least 100 students and assaulted journalists who have been covering the protests.

Students also participated in a sit-in on Thursday January 27 in front of and nearby the Capitolio, the building that houses the Legislature, in the capital San Juan. Students were petitioning senators and representatives to approve legislation that would give funds to the UPR in order to avoid the imposition of the special tuition fee. Regular and special police forces used tear gas and rubber bullets against students and journalists. The situation turned into chaos and protesters ran into a nearby park where tensions mounted. Here is a video and images of the day:

Arrest during protest in fron of the Legislature. Photo by Aura Colón Solá from Rojo Gallito/Desde Adentro and republished under a CC License.*

Students protest in front of the Legislature. Photo by Ricardo Alcaraz from Diálogo and republished under a CC License.*

Students protest in front of the Legislature. Photo by Aura Colón Solá from Rojo Gallito/Desde Adentro republished under a CC License.*

The site Indymediapr.org [es] documented with video and photos day 2 [es] of the acts of civil disobedience and the clashes with police and arrests.

The online magazine Qiibo [es] informed that the police impeded the press from properly documenting these arrests:

La OPC denunció que el fotoperiodista de EL NUEVO DIA, Xavier Araújo, integrantes de la Fuerza de Choque le patearon su cámara, en momentos en donde se arrestaron a cerca de 44 manifestantes en los predios de la Universidad.

The OPC (Overseas Press Club) denounced that members of the Tactical Operations Division kicked the camera of El NUEVO DIA’s photographer, Xavier Araújo, when around 44 protesters were being arrested close to the University.

Law professor Érika Fontánez Torres analyzed the validity of using civil disobedience in her blog Poder, Espacio y Ambiente [es] in which she discusses an essay by German sociologist Jürgen Habermas that justifies civil disobedience under certain circumstances:

… es preciso reconocer la desobediencia civil como parte componente de la cultura política de una comunidad democrática. Cuando fracasa la Constitución representativa ante retos (…) los ciudadanos que no disponen de oportunidades privilegiadas de ejercer influencia, han de ejercer las funciones inmediatas del soberano y deben recurrir a la desobediencia civil con la intención de dar un impulso a las necesarias correcciones e innovaciones.

…it is important to recognize civil disobedience as a component of the political culture of a democratic community. When the representative Constitution fails the challenges (…) citizens who do not have the privileged opportunities to exert influence, must exert the immediate functions of the sovereign and resort to civil disobedience with the intention to impulse the necessary corrections and innovations.

Diálogo Digital [es] captured images of the impressive police presence at the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras campus, where SWAT teams and mounted police joined campus police, private security guards, regular officers, and the Tactical Operations Division.

As the number of student arrests during the last week neared the one-hundred mark, including those of student leader Xiomara Caro and the founder of the student radio station Radio Huelga [es] Ricardo Olivera, protesters all the way across the Atlantic Ocean were able to reach Puerto Rican pro-statehood and Republican Governor Luis Fortuño, as he prepared to speak at the University of Valladolid's Law School in Spain.

The group responsible for the protest in Spain explained their motivations via press release, as reported by the student blog Desde Adentro [es]:

Hemos asistido con la intención de dejar en evidencia ante la comunidad internacional y en especial ante los compañeros estudiantes de mencionada universidad que el distinguido conferenciante, es el encargado de la destrucción de la Universidad pública puertorriqueña, de la represión y abuso contra los estudiantes en la UPR, del descalabro socio-político de la sociedad puertorriqueña, la destrucción ambiental y el aumento en la criminalidad en Puerto Rico.

We've come here with the intention of providing evidence to the international community and especially to our fellow students of the aforementioned university, that the distinguished speaker is in charge of the destruction of Puerto Rico's public university, of the repression and abuse against students at the UPR, of the socio-political disaster of Puerto Rican society, the destruction of our environment, and the rise of crime in Puerto Rico.

The President of the UPR, José Ramón de la Torre, has announced [es] that 94% (54,000) of the students in the 11 campuses of the system have already registered for this semester, which means that they have already complied with the annual $800 fee.
*Post co-authored with Alfredo Richner.
*Photos from Rojo Gallito/Desde Adentro and Diálogo republished under CC License NC-ND 3.0.

This post is part of our special coverage Puerto Rico Student Protests 2010/11.


  • Jimmo

    But we have to wonder why, if there are more than 20,000 students at the UPR, then how come it’s always the same 20 or 30 malcontents getting arrested over and over again? Somehow we are not getting the REAL story here!

  • […] disobedience continued at the University of Puerto Rico this week. Nearly 100 students have been […]

  • grace

    Jimmo, remember there has been more than 100 students arrested… And count the students protest all around the world… There are the same porcentage of the student body, but we are a smaller country.

    At the same time, these are students that know they will be arrested. From the million of people that voted for Fortuño, I’m sure less than a dozen will be willing to face jail for their convictions. This strike has been widely supported in marches, food suplies and more. Never understimate this worldy & worthy cause.

    • tony

      Those are the same people that they dont want to pay $800.00 a year or $66.00 monthly, but they can spend at least $100.00 a night in differents clubs in San Juan P.R.

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